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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Narrowing the search for cancer genes

The road to personalized medicine is a bumpy one, but researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute have found a method that might smooth the way.

Writing in yesterday's Nature Genetics, they report on a faster, cheaper method of screening for multiple mutations that turn on cancer genes.

Taking advantage of mass spectrometry, a tool researchers use to detect variations in genes, they were able to narrow down their search for relevant mutations in 1,000 samples of tumor tissue by examining only regions of genes where most troublesome mutations occur.

"You don't have to sequence the entire cancer genome," said Dr. Levi A. Garraway, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber and an associate member of the Broad, a joint MIT-Harvard institute. "All you need to do is look in specific locations."

The researchers discovered that some tumor samples showed mutations not normally expected for the kind of cancer the patient had been diagnosed with. If a patient with pancreatic cancer showed a mutation more commonly found in lung cancer, for example, there might be a treatment to use that would not otherwise have been considered, Garraway said.

The screening method could be used along with the Cancer Genome Atlas, a large, complex project to sequence cancer genes.

There are two barriers to making individualized cancer medicine a reality, the paper says. One is to identify all the genes involved in the spectrum of cancers, and the other is to translate that knowledge into therapies for patients.

"We're trying to pave a way to get past both bottlenecks," Garraway said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:00 AM
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